Book Club Bloggers - Interpreter of Maladies

It's book club time again!!
This month we've all read Jhumpa Lahiri's Pulitzer Prize winning collection of short stories:

The first time I read Interpreter of Maladies we had just moved to Chattanooga.  Check that, we had just moved to Cleveland, TN (30 minutes outside of Chattanooga, Cleveland makes Chattanooga like the "big city").  My husband was away for a month of training for his new position and I was isolated.  Nothing in my world seemed familiar.  There wasn't a single person that I knew for literally 100s of miles in every direction. And though we were on the brink of what has turned out to be a great adventure, I didn't quite see it that way at the time.  I was a stranger in a very foreign land.  While it may seem dramatic for me to compare my move from St. Louis to Chattanooga to Lahiri's characters transition from India to the United States.  I assure you, at the time, the common theme of isolation among her characters seemed all too familiar to me.  Our cultural differences were insignificant.  I connected with the stories at the heart level.  That connection was powerful and I recall putting the book down when I was finished and thinking, "This might be the best book I've ever read."

A passage from the story Mrs. Sen's sums up what I took from my first encounter,
"Do you miss your mother, Eliot, these afternoons with me?"
The thought had never occurred to him.
"You must miss her. When I think of you, only a boy, separated from your mother for so much of the day, I am ashamed."
"I see her at night."
"When I was your age I was without knowing that one day I would be so far.  You are wiser than that, Eliot.  You already taste the way things must be." (122-123)
Isolation and the rebuilding of community were the powerful messages that stuck with me. Hmmmm, I wonder why?
Reading it again, several years later I find myself once again deeply moved by Lahiri's writing.  Her storytelling is so incredibly rich.  The depth of character she achieves in the short story format is borderline miraculous.  And once again, I am struck by the fact that though many of her characters are unique to the Indian American culture, their experiences and emotions are universal.

This time, I've fallen in love with different stories.  (Isn't it cool to re-read a book when you're life is in a different stage???) 
Knowing how it would end from page one, A Temporary Matter wrecked me this time through. I read it the first time anticipating a reconciliation and looking for clues that the marriage was to be restored. This time I experienced the couple's bitter sweet farewell paragraph by paragraph.  Instead of simply being turned off by the Das family's ugly Americanism, I was struck by how quickly an emotional affair can be conceived and carried to fruition while reading the title story, Interpreter of Maladies. Lahiri brilliantly depicts how easy it is to romanticize an individual, as Mr. Kapasi did with Mrs. Das, before really getting to know much of anything about the person. Instead of seeing The Third and Final Continent as a picture of a foreigner in a foreign land doing what he could to survive, I marveled over how each unfamiliar step brought him closer to the love story with his wife and the lives of their future generations.

I'm a huge fan of short stories.  And I'm an even bigger fan of Lahiri's short stories.  To be able to communicate enormous narratives with a limited ration of words is a gift.  Plus there is something about only being privy to just an episode of a character's life.  It allows the reader to imagine a beginning and end all for ourselves.  We can fill in our own details.   For me, this participation in the story telling makes it all the more engaging.

Interpreter of Maladies is a work that has been a joy for me to read again.  Though Lahiri's subject matter is often heavy and her stories can be a bit dark, it never felt like too much.  That's probably another benefit of the short story format.  Perhaps full length novels of any of these stories might have proven too intense or depressing.  Instead this collection left me yearning for more of her work and waiting for another collection of stories to dive into.

Click Here for the Other Member's Reviews

Have YOU read Interpreter of Maladies?  If so, what did you think?
(If not, I hope I haven't kept you from doing so with my spoilers)